• BI stops collecting express lane fees

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    THE Bureau of Immigration (BI) has stopped collecting the controversial express lane fees (ELFs) in what appears to be a retaliation for allegation of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that the fees are a source of corruption.

    “Yes, it [collection]was stopped starting May 1,” BI spokesman Antonette Mangrobang told The Manila Times on Monday.

    Mangrobang declined to elaborate, except that “we don’t want to antagonize the DBM.”

    Express lane charges amounting to P550 are paid by every foreigner who wants to fast-track processing of his travel documents.

    Last year, the Immigration bureau was able to collect P1.4 billion in express lane fees.

    The fees are the source of funding for paying the overtime work of 1,693 immigration employees and hiring of confidential agents and job-order employees.

    Malacañang disallowed the BI’s continued use of its income, such as that from the express lane fees, for operational purposes.

    Discussions among DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd and Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente had failed to resolve the issue.

    The DBM chief pointed out that the presidential veto on the use of the ELFs is not the problem but the BI itself, saying “the problem is with the Bureau of Immigration because [it is]protecting a corrupt system.”

    Diokno has asked the Commission on Audit to audit the ELFs, saying, “I [want]to know how they spent the P785 million for 1,693 employees.”

    Immigration sources, who requested anonymity, said the collection of the express lane fees should be stopped as “it does not serve its purpose anymore.”

    In a joint statement, the BI workers’ union Buklod and Immigration Officers Association of the Philippines also asked Diokno to be truthful in his statements, saying they not only distorted facts but also demoralized the bureau’s employees.

    Because of failed efforts to temporarily lift the presidential veto on the ELFs, Mangrobang said the bureau now focuses on the passage of a new immigration law that will upgrade the salary scale of BI employees.

    According to her, the bureau, through the Justice secretary, would appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to certify the proposed measure as urgent, saying enactment of a new Philippine Immigration Act is long overdue.
    The first attempt to amend the law was made during the time of Immigration chief Rufus Rodriguez.

    Two bills were refiled during the respective watches of former Immigration commissioner and now Chairman Andrea Domingo of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and another former Immigration commissioner, Marcelino Libanan, but nothing happened.

    Under his watch, Morente said, he will “resolutely push for the passage of a new immigration act as the existing law that was passed 70 years ago is no longer attuned to present realities and the changing times.”

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